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Chavez reaches out to middle class

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has made an abrupt political shift, urging his socialist movement to reach out to the middle class and small business owners.

Mr Chavez, whose signature red shirts have long been a symbol of his radicalism, also suggested his allies ought to be more moderate in their wardrobes.

"Why do we have to go around all the time wearing a red shirt?" Mr Chavez asked in a telephone call broadcast on state television.

The president, who in the past has scolded some aides for not wearing the red often associated with leftist movements, chose a yellow shirt when he addressed supporters at his 57th birthday party on Thursday.

Mr Chavez, who is undergoing cancer treatment, appeared to be taking a more moderate stance to try to expand his support ahead of the presidential election in late 2012.

He said his party should seek to recapture middle class support.

Such support has waned over the years amid the government's expropriations of businesses, farmland and residential buildings, as well as expanding price controls viewed by many as a threat to the economy. "We can't give away the middle class to the bourgeoisie," Mr Chavez said, referring to the opposition.

The president also said his government has no plans to expropriate small businesses, adding: "We have to open ourselves up to those sectors, the private productive sector."

Mr Chavez has had tense relations with the country's business leaders during his more than 12 years in office. He has accused business leaders of defending capitalism, identifying them as obstacles to his socialist movement. Meanwhile, he has nationalised or expropriated big businesses in industries ranging from telecommunications to construction.

"We have to reflect ... and introduce changes in our stances and in our actions," Mr Chavez said.


From Belfast Telegraph